On Tuesday about 55 people attended the Greenwich Planning & Zoning commission’s discussion of the Central Middle School pre-application.
Architect Kemp Morhardt from SLAM Collaborative explained that the proposal was for children to remain in the existing building while the new one is constructed on the 21 acre campus in Cos Cob.
P&Z chair Margarita Alban said the commission would like a detailed phasing plan for that process.
Katie Nogaki, a neighbor directly across from the proposed bus exit on Orchard Street, said her family and property would be severely disrupted and urged consideration, especially during construction phasing.
Rock Outcropping – Decades of Graduation Photos
In the current version of the site plan the rock outcropping and its trees are slated to be flattened and replanted.
There are 1800 trees to be removed overall on the site.
“The site should be considered a blank slate,” commissioner Nick Macri said. “If for some reason the optimum layout of the site needs to sacrifice the rock outcropping to make it work logically and safely, it should be sacrificed.”
It was noted that the community is passionate about the rock outcropping and the wooded section at the north of the property.
“If it was left there (originally), there may be a good reason,” Alban said, noting it may not be possible to replant the area if the rock goes down deep.
The experts said it might be bedrock but if they were to remove it, they could crush the rock on site and use it for fill in parts of the campus to be raised.
Ms Alban noted that special permit standards emphasized preservation of natural features.
“My sense of having been there is that it is a landmark,” Alban said, adding that it might be prohibitively expensive to remove the rock outcropping.
Traffic Flow Separate Entrances Parents and Buses: Room for 60 Cars to Queue
There were many questions about the proposed long driveway off Indian Rock for parents, which is separate from the proposed bus loop. It would be lined with 100 parking spots and have room for 60 cars to queue. The long driveway, with its curb cut in the same place as the existing one, will have sidewalks and allow for two-way traffic and parking along both sides. It would feature dedicated left turn and right turn lanes exiting to Indian Rock.
The drop off area outside the main entrance can accommodate 8-10 cars.
When a long queue forms, cars backing out of parking spaces into the drop off lanes might have to wait for the line to quell, but the road is a proposed to be 24-ft wide and most of those parking spaces would be occupied by staff who arrive in advance of student drop off.
The idea of having all cars queue on campus rather than on Indian Rock was well received, but there was discussion about parents being tempted to drop off amid the queue and pull a three-point turn mid-way to get out.
Ms Alban asked about enforcement.
The experts explained that the road was wide enough not to require a three-point turn, but those types of issues will always occur and the school administration would need to help monitor and enforce.
Alban noted that three public schools have had to redesign their drop offs including Greenwich High School, North Mianus, Hamilton Avenue and North Street.
Bus Loop from Orchard Street
The vendors said it was important to keep school buses and parents separate for safety reasons. Staff will mostly park in the 22 spaces near the bus loop because they arrive first. From there, staff would fill the 100 spaces along the parent/visitor drive.
New curb cuts will be made along Orchard Street to create a one-way buses loop with buses coming in opposite Coachlamp Lane, where there will be a crosswalk and flashing beacon.
There will be room for 9 buses in the one way bus loop with a right turn in from Orchard Street.
The bus loop would exit with right turn only back onto Orchard heading south, not because of limits of geometry because of sight lines and to preserve trees.
An added benefit to the bus loop in and out of Orchard and crosswalks with stop sighs in two locations, will be to slow traffic.
To protect children using the crosswalks, rapid repeating flashing beacons are being considered.
There was also discussion of using cameras for enforcement.
A new law allowing enforcement of the speed limit via camera, CT PA 23-116, was enacted by Governor Lamont on June 23.
Ms Alban said town planner Patrick LaRow would explore with Greenwich Police and DPW the possibility of a pilot program with cameras on Orchard Street. A study by Tighe & Bond indicated there are high rate of speed.
“It has to be in excess of 10 miles an hour over the speed limit,” Alban said. “From the traffic report it seems we have that well in hand. But even with passage of the bill…Connecticut has always resisted camera enforcement.”
In the area of Indian Rock at Ponderosa Drive, there is a proposed “speed table” which is a raised crosswalk to slow down traffic and increase pedestrian safety.
It was noted that students within 1-1/2 miles of middle school do not qualify for bus service, so there are a large number of students who walk to school.
There was discussion about striking a balance between complying with regulations about safety and sight lines and minimizing the amount of tree removal.
There are quite a few large mature trees on campus and 1,800 trees are proposed to be removed. The experts said they were shy in their replacement because there are limited areas to locate trees due to security concerns and wanting to keep the fields clear.
Ms Alban suggested that prior to submitting a landscaping plan the applicant work with P&Z staff.
“If you have a mature Oak with significant DBH, rather than put in a new tree…have your landscape person sit with P&Z staff beforehand,” she said.
Alban said the landscaping plan should consider native species, deep roots, flood management and sustainability.
“We’re also prioritizing the protection of adjacent neighbors,” Alban said, adding that the plans appeared to provide a sufficient buffer.
During public comment Alex Popp said there were lessons to be learned from New Lebanon School, where today there are no shade trees in the new parking lot, bus loop or playground areas.
“The playground is shadeless,” he said. “Wherever the students congregate, there needs to be plenty of shade.”
Mr. Popp said any stipulation from the town Tree Warden that trees be planted did not necessarily mean the trees would be planted. He said that New Lebanon School they were 40 trees of the stipulation.
“Any plan should be funded prior to the removal of any of the trees,” Popp added.
Ms Alban said landscape regulations were as mandatory as any other zoning regulation, and that is by state law. Also the tree warden derived his authority from the state.
“There had been a communication disconnect between us, the BOE and the BET,” Alban said. “I think we cleared that up now.”
She said the issues with previous school projects where tree replacement did not take place should no longer happen.
Myra Klockenbrink, co chair of the Greenwich Pollinator Pathway said there was a substantial stand of “marvelous” Sassafras trees along Orchard Street. She described them as native, beautiful and difficult to remove.
“I would encourage it to be preserved as a valuable under-story tree,” she said. “And it’s already there.”
She said too often new landscaping looks beautiful for a year and then they dies.
“It’s very difficult to establish trees and plantings in an area surrounded by concrete and asphalt,” she said.
JoAnn Messina, chair of the Greenwich Tree Conservancy, said while she understood the importance of student safety, she was concerned about the tree count and the loss of mature tree canopy.
“We do not have a wonderful track record with the Board of Ed,” she said.
Like Mr. Popp, Messina urged that replacement trees be fully budgeted.
“Again, we have history with Greenwich High School, New Lebanon and Hamilton Avenue school that the trees were not planted as approved by a plan. It’s really important that we do that.”
Messina mentioned that if there weren’t enough locations for replacement trees at CMS, they could be planted on other school campuses, which has been done in the past.